Emerging tech could help prevent hot car deaths

As summer temperatures soar, so does the risk of hot-car deaths among kids. But some emerging technology that can detect heartbeats may be able to prevent those tragedies.

Example of a mobile notification for Toyota’s Cabin Awareness technology, currently in development. (Courtesy Toyota)

The danger is real. According to the website Kidsandcars.org, 12 children have died in hot cars so far in 2022. Over 1,000 children have died in hot cars nationwide since 1990.

The concept, called Cabin Awareness, is being developed by Toyota and works by using radar to detect a heartbeat or other “micro movements” inside the vehicle. If a heart rate is picked up in a vehicle that is supposed to be unoccupied, notifications would go out.

“The first level of escalations could potentially be calling grandma, calling the neighbor,” said Brian Kursar, chief data and technology officer for Toyota Motor North America. “Or let’s say, for instance, your smart home lights could start blinking on and off.”

Nearby cars could be alerted and, of course, first responders could be notified as well.

Example of a mobile notification for Toyota’s Cabin Awareness technology, currently in development. (Courtesy Toyota)

Kursar said they’re still working on the system’s reliability to avoid false positives. For example, a person leaning against a car, or water vibrating within a cup inside, could potentially set off an alert.

Still, Kursar said Toyota’s radar-based system represents an improvement over camera- or weight-sensor based systems that come with their own drawbacks.

Toyota’s Cabin Awareness technology is still in development. (Courtesy Toyota)

He adds that it’s possible that this new tech could debut in production vehicles in the coming years.

“We feel confident that we’re going to be able to put something like this on the market soon,” Kursar said.

The goal, he said, is for the system to cost less than $100 per vehicle. It could also work to prevent some pet deaths.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.

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